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Obama Scales Back Budget Plans for 'Teaching and Learning' Funds

President Obama's new budget request is out. You can get the Big Picture from my colleague Alyson Klein's piece over at Politics K-12. As she notes, while domestic spending on discretionary programs would be frozen, the Department of Education would actually see a modest increase.

Bringing the lens of this blog to bear, I want to highlight that Obama is once again proposing to consolidate a variety of curriculum-related programs at the Education Department into three new, competitive funds focused on "effective teaching and learning" in the areas of literacy, STEM, and the catchall "well-rounded education." But, in perhaps a sign of the fiscal times, he's requesting a lot less money for each than he did a year ago.

(I should note that budget issues are always at least a little confusing, and this year more so because Congress still has not completed action on a budget for the current fiscal year—2011.)

In handy bullet form, here's what Obama wants for the respective Effective Teaching and Learning funds, compared with what he asked for a year ago:

• $383 million for literacy, down from $450 million in fiscal 2011 request;

• $206 million for STEM, down from $300 million in fiscal 2011 request; and

• $246 million for a well-rounded education, down from $265 million in fiscal 2011 request.

I should caution that even though Obama is requesting less than last year, these totals are still higher than the collective amount of money for the programs they would replace, as of fiscal 2010. For example, the total for the eight programs that would be consolidated into the new Well-Rounded Education fund—such as Teaching American History, Arts in Education, and Foreign Language Assistance—was $226 million in fiscal 2010. So the new fund would still reflect an increase of $20 million.

In the budget summary, the Obama administration explains that these three new funds would "address the need to strengthen instruction and raise student achievement across the core academic content areas, especially in high-need [districts], by replacing a patchwork of 15 programs and funding streams in current law with three comprehensive, coherent programs that provide increased flexibility for states and [districts] to design, develop, and implement strategies that best meet the needs of their students."

For STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—education, I want to emphasize that Obama's plans go beyond the Teaching and Learning fund. Among other things, he also wants to dedicate $80 million to prepare and retain effective teachers as part of a proposed Teacher and Leader Pathways program. Here's a summary of all the initiatives Obama has in mind connected to STEM at the Education Department.

In fact, the president unveiled his new budget request at a STEM-focused school: Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology in Baltimore County, Md.

"This week, I'll be talking about the need to invest in education, in places like Parkville, so that every American is equipped to compete with any worker, anywhere in the world," the president said. "These investments are an essential part of the budget my administration is sending to Congress, because I'm convinced that if we outbuild and outinnovate and outeducate, as well as outhustle the rest of the world, the jobs and industries of our time will take root here in the United States."

As always, there's plenty more to mine in the president's budget request. For everything you ever wanted to know about it, here's a link to the budget page at the U.S. Department of Education.

Also, it's important not to confuse the budget request with reality. That's particularly true this year, given that Republicans now control the House. Indeed, as I noted yesterday, GOP leaders have just unveiled a budget plan for the current fiscal year that would abolish funding for a slew of curriculum-related programs.

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